The novel by Céline La Frenière



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*****
 

Story in brief:

Glaston Town, a rough neighbourhood in a corner of London, is home to a cast of motley characters. Immigrants and old-timers, criminals and constables, clergymen and crack addicts, students and shopkeepers, pimps and politicians all live more or less together. Most compelling is Jack Corbyn, a brilliant teenager who would rather count bricks and screws than chase girls. As he matures he becomes an unlikely Glaston Town hero, but his relationship with childhood mate Bee O’Neall turns troubled when a wealthy woman who hires her as a companion plucks her out of poverty. Seeking romantic advice, Jack turns to an unlikely mentor, the local prostitute Leila Pain. La Pain may be a public nuisance, but she proves to have plenty of wisdom to impart to her young friend. Just as things seem to be going better for Jack, a brutal murder shocks the neighbourhood. Newly minted Detective Constable Sharon Tyllor is called in to assist in the investigation, but as an outsider she finds that nobody is talking—and that everyone, it seems, has a motive for this particular crime.

With an introduction by Tony Goldenberg on the back of the book.
 

"Life, Love, and Murder in a Corner of London. A project of Dickensian sweep...in just the way Dickens might do it now." 

Nate Briggs, Kindle Book Review

"In La Frenière's debut thriller, the savage murder of a local citizen threatens a close-knit community in a small London village.The novel is split in three separate parts, each in a distinctive genre. A trio of stories that stand out individually but, like the Glaston Town residents, are much stronger as a whole."  

Kirkus Review                                                                                 https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/celine-la-freniere/glaston-town/ 

"A complex and rewarding novel...A murder mystery that feels tragically real."

Jon Thum, author

"A long overdue novel from a master storyteller!" 

Patricia Sands, author 

"You'll find echoes of the author's life and experiences in the words, and you'll find yourself immersed in a compelling mystery that you'll never forget."  

Rebecca McNutt, author

"Glaston Town, the gritty debut novel by Céline La Frenière has many bleak moments of poverty and despair, but the prevailing theme is the sense of community that emerges in the darkest of times."

Jane Clinton                                                                                                                        from her article, Tales from the hood, in the Camden New Journal, February 11, 2016. http://www.camdenreview.com/reviews/books/glaston-town-by-céline-la-frenière

BOOKS: Céline's Glaston Town is a gritty debut novel http://www.islingtontribune.com/reviews/books/2016/feb/books-célines-glaston-town-gritty-debut-novelhttp://www.westendextra.com/reviews/books/2016/feb/books-célines-glaston-town-gritty-debut-novel

"I know that the names of the places where this book took place were likely altered a bit, but I couldn't help looking for them on Google map. Gaston Town was so very real to me, and the aura of a poor, inner city neighborhood was very realistic...This book was so much better than, most contemporary mystery novels."   Michael R.H.Swanson, Ph.D.    Michael R. H. Swanson, Ph. D.  


FROM THE PAGES OF GLASTON TOWN

Glaston Town is an area populated by low-income families who live in social housing. Suddenly, however, the neighbourhood is about to change. This excerpt is taken from the first part of the book.


CHAPTER 4

Invasion from Kings Cross

Sunday, July 14, 2002

T

he summer of 2002 will always be remembered as a dire time for the Glaston Town community

Tonight Sam has volunteered for evening duty in the area around the Lavender Open Space. It’s been a hot, suffocating summer, and the Council is aware that more work is likely to get done in the cool of the night than during the smoldering day. There’s plenty of work for Sam to do; empty Coke cans and discarded ice cream and lolly wrappers litter the road. Among the rubbish, he picks up a worn-out copy of the Glaston Town Journal. One of the headlines, catches his attention: “Kings Cross: £2 Billion Redevelopment Gets Go Ahead.”

Demolition on a grand scale is taking place in the neighbourhood of Kings Cross railway station, south of Glaston Town, to make way for this massive regeneration project. For years, Kings Cross has been a haven for brothels, drug dens, illegal poker gambling clubs and a multitude of other venues where criminal activities take place. With the new construction, the lowlifes who have practiced their trade in the district are being moved out.

A trim red fox crosses the park with utter confidence. Household cats pick up his scent and swiftly climb trees to safety. One can hear muffled sounds from windows that have been left open, but on the whole, the neighbourhood is quiet and peaceful.

All of a sudden, newcomers emerge out of nowhere, like locusts swarming over the district: Dozens of them, noisy, brash and either drugged-up or drunk. The women in the group, mostly white, ages ranging from 16 to near 60, are dramatically made up and dressed to kill in miniskirts and high heels. They prowl the streets like wild cats, sussing out the neighbourhood for business opportunities. Men, mostly black and cool, swagger in the middle of the wide Lavender Road, a strong whiff of marijuana trailing behind them. These are a cast of a sinister nature, the like of which one has not seen in the area before.

At the head of the pack, however, is one local: Leila Pain, as provocative as ever in a newly bleached hairdo and flashy silver outfit. Gleaming with excitement, she hangs proudly on the arm of a black man who’s built like a tank. Towering a full seven inches above him, she squawks: “I told you how fabulous this place wuz, Smokey, dinn’t I?”

“Urhh,” grunts Smokey. Leila’s friend, who appears to be of Afro-Caribbean origin, isn’t exactly communicative. One gets little out of him but the occasional monosyllable.

“Who needs freaking Kings Cross when you can have Glaston Town?”

“Urhh.”

Faces appear at windows, gawking at this unwelcome spectacle. Despite the sweltering heat, some residents even shut their windows.

Leila points out a Council house near the corner of Lavender Road and Welsh Street, at No. 49. “That’s the one!” she says in a high shrilly voice, and Smokey’s colleagues rush into the building.

“I ain’t going nowhere!” an old man shouts with a scratchy voice.

“You wait and see,” says a fierce male voice.

“It’s payback time, Moses,” says another.

“Oh, oh, ooooh,” cries Moses Columba as he is being ejected, forcibly, and lands on the road with a loud thump.

As the ancient, vulnerable drug addict gathers his wits; there is plenty of activity taking place inside his former home. Mobile phones start ringing. Deals are being made. Loud rock and roll music blares into the night. The Kings Cross troublemakers are open for business—and, it appears, here to stay.

Leila drags Smokey along to her flat in the Radford building around the corner on Charity Lane. Climbing the stairs, she wakes everyone along her trail. Outside Jayne Corbyn’s door, she shrieks. “What the hell! My freaking heels are coming off!”

Mrs. Corbyn, who is watching Inspector Morse on the telly, is not in the mood to be disturbed. It has been an exhausting day for her, working at the McDougall’s Fast Food restaurant. She swings the door wide open and pleads: “Leila, for crying out loud!”

Her 12-year-old son, Jack, wakened by the noise, appears behind her in his pyjamas, eager to investigate the cause of the disturbance. Mother and son find themselves face to face with the menacing presence of Smokey. Without uttering another word, Jayne Corbyn shuts the door.

Rachel Keighgan’s head emerges from one of the windows. “Give over, luv,” shouts the no-nonsense nurse in her native Yorkshire accent. “No one can sleep with all this racket.”

“Awh, shut up,” Leila barks back as she crosses the balcony on the south side to the northern wing where she lives.

It is a long and tiring ascent to Leila’s flat, which is perched at the top of the six-story building, at No. 63. The moment she and Smokey cross the threshold, Leila switches on the radio. She’s in the mood for jazzy blues, the louder the better.

Next door to her flat, at No. 62, Mrs. Karen Thibault and her teenaged daughter, Lucy, are soon wakened. Through the thin walls, they can hear the unmistakable sounds of sexual activity. Leila and Smokey have wasted no time.

“This is horrid, just so horrid!” Mrs. Thibault cries out in distress.

Lucy, whose 15th birthday she celebrated just a few days ago, is quite grown up for her age. “Don’t worry, Mother. We have each other. Leila’s hasn’t got anyone. She needs company from time to time.”

“Oh, my dear Lucy, what are we going to do?”

“Nothing,” replies Lucy. “They’ll soon get tired and go to sleep. Meanwhile, I’ll make us a cup of tea.” The teenager fills the kettle, boils the water and generally takes charge. She has done so since she was eight, the year her father died. Her mother just could not cope with her loss. Despite having to deal with her own grief, Lucy had to take over many household duties and make sure her mother did not give up. Tomorrow she will visit Leila and quietly appeal to her better nature. Were it anyone else, Leila would tell her where to go. But for Lucy, whose struggles she well knows, La Pain will try to moderate her behaviour. That won’t last, of course, but at least she’ll try, which is probably the best one could expect.

Meanwhile, Tom O’Connors emerges in his dressing gown from the flat at No. 38, which he, his daughter, Maureen, and sister-in-law, Angela Parnel, share. He climbs several flights of stairs, shuffles resolutely towards Leila’s door and knocks repeatedly on it with his walking stick. Stark naked, Smokey answers the door and stares at Tom without saying a word. O’Connors, however, is too old to be intimidated. “Listen, young man, we will not tolerate this kind of behaviour around here.”

“Eh?” questions Smokey.

“There are children about. So keep your fun down and to yourself, you hear?”

“Uhh!” Smokey responds.

“And turn this wretched music off. It’s the middle of the night, for Pete’s sake.”

“Uhh,” growls Smokey, shutting the door in old O’Connors’ face.

Tom O’Connors walks away, grumbling. “Dirty dogs.”

Mercifully, no one has taken a blind bit of notice of Sam. As ever, the road sweeper is invisible. It’s the first time since he arrived in England from the States that he hasn’t felt entirely safe, and with good reason. In no time at all, the streets, the park and the social housing estates in Glaston Town have been literally taken over by these newcomers, as they carry out their drug dealings around the clock, in full view of residents, their children and passers-by.

Prostitution, too, is running rampant. Even that nice Major Gordon Casey is deemed a suitable target. Scarlet, an emaciated, mature-looking white woman with dark hair tied up in a chignon, struts her stuff on five-inch-high stiletto heels. She appraises the Major. The handsome black man wobbles slightly, but can still stand tall and proud despite his blindness and other war injuries. Reeking of cheap perfume, she embraces the stunned Casey. “Hello!” she greets him warmly.

Gordon Casey squeezes the lead of his guide dog, Gertrude. It takes a moment for him to catch on. “Do I know you?” he asks politely.

“No, but very soon you will.”

“I think there’s been a misunderstanding,” he tells her.

“No, you’re the one I’ve been looking for, that’s for sure.”

Gordon’s wife, Klaire, and their eight-year-old daughter, Cynthia, turn the corner at Rochdale Street and are startled by the sight of the aged prostitute wrapped around Gordon.

“May we help you?” Klaire asks in a civil, but firm, voice.

Scarlet brings an unlit cigarette from her hand to her mouth and lets it dangle from her lips. “Yeah, sweetie, you can give me a light if you want.”

“My husband and I don’t smoke,” says Klaire, as she leads her puzzled spouse away.

“Thanks all the same,” says the older woman, shrugging.

Young Cynthia stares back at the rejected prostitute. She hasn’t missed a thing. Scarlet is lucky. This time around, she has encountered a dignified married woman. Next time, fur will fly. Glaston Town is the kind of place where women will defend their territory with much more than words.

Litter around Lavender Road now includes used condoms, burnt-out foils, pipes and needles, bloody knives and other evidence of a dissolute lifestyle. Almost overnight, a modest neighbourhood has been transformed into hell.


   


 Cynthia Casey is a bright 15-year-old who has just had her heart broken for the first time.


CHAPTER 41


   The loss of innocence

 Friday, November 6, 2009

C

ynthia Casey has grown from childhood into womanhood overnight. She hasn’t lost her virginity, but she has lost her innocence. Fifteen is a vulnerable age. Sometimes, a girl will act grown-up and flirt with danger, then quickly revert back to being a child who seeks protection from things that are too much to cope with.

At fifteen, such behaviour might be understandable, but some women never grow out of that stage. Take Karen Thibault, the middle-aged seamstress who lives on the top floor of the Radford building, for example. Here is a grown woman who cannot take the heat. Cynthia watches Mrs. Thibault as she drags a trolley full of mending through the corridors of the Radford building with the help of her daughter, Lucy. “I can’t live in this hellhole anymore,” she moans.

“But where would we go, Mother?” asks Lucy.

“There’s got to be somewhere else.”

“Like what? The Dorchester Hotel?”

“What about the rest home?”

“Not again,” says Lucy. “You’ve been there so many times they’ll start wondering whether you might have lost your mind altogether.”

“Oh, my dear Lucy, I am so tired. I just cannot take it anymore.”

“You’ll feel better tomorrow,” Lucy assures her.

“No, I won’t,” says Karen. “One day, I’ll just explode.”

“You have to become more realistic, Mother. We’re not rich people. We cannot just pack up and move away. We simply have to do the best with what we’ve got.”

“And what’s that, then?”

“A nice flat in Glaston Town at an affordable price and yes, it comes with a troublesome neighbour.”

“That wretch is ruining my life!” Karen howls.

“She’s not ruining your life, Mother. She is ruining her life. That’s not the same thing.”

Not wanting to meet the Thibaults today, Cynthia Casey waits until they’ve passed by. Last night the girl learned that being told the truth, even by Paul Kevinson, whom she trusts and respects, is not the same as actually experiencing the truth. No matter how much PC Kevinson might have warned her about Lee Jaccson, she would always have given the boy the benefit of the doubt. The truth in this case has turned out to be shattering. Lee Jaccson showing off with another woman right under her bedroom window might have been hard enough to bear. But that her rival should be Leila Pain, a woman of 30 with a dubious reputation to boot, has been a devastating experience.

As she crosses Hartland Heath on her way to school, Cynthia spots Lee Jaccson from a distance. He’s standing at the gate of Hartland Hill School, shivering with cold and, she suspects, shame. Last night Lee was playing the big shot, dealing in dangerous weapons and gang intrigues and masquerading as a man of the world. This morning, he shows up as a boy intent on offering the scraps of his love to her.

Cynthia is not surprised to find him there; she had half expected it. She is, after all, her mother’s daughter. Klaire, a woman graced with beauty, pride and insight, has been a good role model for Cynthia. The girl is determined that she will not fall apart, as Mrs. Karen Thibault would, but face trouble head on.

Lee puffs up his chest and gathers up his confidence. “Well, hello!”

“Hello,” Cynthia replies coolly.

Her tone surprises Lee. He knows for sure that Cynthia had seen him with Leila Pain last night; he’d noticed her spying on them from a gap in her bedroom curtains. So why is she being so cool? Doesn’t she care for him at all? Last night Cynthia was just a girl whose feelings he was playing with. Now, he is not so sure who is playing with whom.

“If you’re here for your knife, well, it’s gone,” she tells him.

“I don’t freaking care about the effing knife,” he says.

“It’s just as well, then,” she says.

“I do care about you, though,” Lee hears himself telling her, to his own surprise.

Cynthia looks at him long and hard. The silence between them is heavy with meaning. It has a different effect on each of them. In Lee, it provokes a deep insecurity. For Cynthia, it builds self-confidence. She is grateful that she has escaped a dangerous liaison with this silly, immature boy. Lee senses that, too, and is afraid. “Cynthia, about last night…”

“There is nothing to explain. I got the message loud and clear, I can assure you.”

“But she doesn’t mean anything to me.”

“Oh, well. It’s none of my concern.”

“I thought you liked me.”

“I did and I do,” she says, “but that doesn’t mean that you and I will ever be lovers.”

Lee panics. “Never?” he blurts out.

“That’s right, Lee. Now go home and get some sleep. You look as if you need it. I’ve got an exam this morning. I can’t fill my head up with you and your sordid stories.”

“Aren’t you jealous, not even a little?”

“No,” she says, meaning it. “What I feel is turned off. I also feel strangely free from you. Saved, if you like.”

“Now you’re talking like a vicar’s daughter,” he says with wry humour.

She shrugs her shoulders. “Maybe. Had last night not happened, God knows how far this thing between us might have gone?” Lee rummages through his coat pocket, takes out a package of cigarettes, pulls one out and lights up. “I thought you quit smoking,” she says.

“You’re making me feel nervous,” he says.

“Last night with Leila, you were punishing me because I let go of your knife, weren’t you?” she asks.

He cannot deny it. “Who is being punished now?” he asks quietly.

“See you around,” she says.

“See you around,” he responds.

She follows him with her eyes as he walks away looking dejected. All she would have to do now to retrieve the situation is to call him back. He’d be there at once, and on her terms, but for how long? How long before he lets her down again? No, it wouldn’t do. Love would have to wait for some other time, some other place and someone else.


We meet Lee Jaccson again, some two years after the mishandling of his relationship with Cynthia Casey. Detective Constable Sharon Tyllor is interviewing him as a possible murder suspect.

CHAPTER 89

Lee Jaccson

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

D

C Tyllor prepares herself to meet Lee Jaccson by studying a report about the 18-year-old’s difficult background and history of violence. She finds it hard at first to understand how a star pupil like Cynthia Casey could have got herself mixed up with a school dropout; but then she comes across a record of Jaccson’s IQ, which is 152. That’s the same IQ as Einstein’s. So what is a potential genius doing rotting away in a Council tenement? Sharon is intrigued.

She arrives early to meet Lee on the basketball pitch at the back of the Linden Estate, his suggestion for a rendezvous. As the appointed time approaches, Sharon looks around, but fails to notice the broody, handsome young man leaning against a nearby tree, watching her intently. When he is apparently late, she begins to worry. It dawns on her that agreeing to such an insecure meeting place might have been a mistake. As she is walking away, she hears a deep male voice calling after her: “You look fit, DC Tyllor!”

She turns around to face him and is struck by the gruesome scar on his face. Jaccson has a strong, magnetic presence, which she struggles to deal with. She swallows hard. “How long have you been standing there?”

“Let’s just say that I wouldn’t have stayed if I dinnit like the look of you.”

“This meeting is not optional, you know. I could have issued a warrant for your arrest.”

“Ain’t it right?” he says with a mischievous grin. He is holding a basketball, which he throws at her. She catches it. “Good reflexes. Let see what you can do,” he challenges.

Sharon’s first instinct is to assert her authority over this cheeky young man, but on second thought, she realises that this may be the best way to break the ice. She has read that this young man was not exactly the communicative type. The police could not get much out of him in the past. Maybe a bit of sport might work.

She undoes her police uniform jacket, throws it on a bench and rolls up her sleeves. A confident basketball player, Sharon soon proves herself to be the stronger player.

“Where did you learn to play like that?”

“I was an athlete before I became a police officer.”

“No kidding?”

“Do you want me to kick your arse some more, or do you want to sit down and talk?”

“It’d probably be less painful for my ego if we did the talking.”

“Okay.” She picks up her jacket and puts it back on.

“I seem to be doomed to meeting women who are physically stronger than me,” he says in a disarming way.

“What do you mean?”

“Cynthia’s a black belt, you know.”

Despite herself, Sharon is beginning to like Jaccson. “Talking about Cynthia Casey, what broke up your relationship?”

“I tried to make her jealous and it backfired.”

“By having an affair with Leila Pain?”

“You might call it an affair. We have less poetic names for it ‘round here.”

“Didn’t you like Leila?”

“Sure I did. She liked me, too. But...”

“…But.”

“I was bloody stupid. I was trying to make Cynthia toe the line. Show her who was the boss kinda thing.”

“It didn’t work out?”

“Failed spectacularly. She outsmarted me.”

“How?”

“She ditched me.”

Sharon laughs. “Live and learn.”

“Yeah. So do you fancy me, then?”

The DC is taken aback. “What makes you say that?”

“Well, you asked a bunch of questions about my personal life. That usually means one thing.”

“It’s all part of a day’s work.”

“So why don’t you get to the point, then?”

“Okay. What were you doing on the night of Wednesday, December 22, 2010 from 11:35 p.m. until the morning of Thursday, December 23 at 1:30 a.m.?”

“I was working.”

Sharon does a double take. “Doing what?”

“You look surprised. I guess you thought I made my money doing drug dealing, huh? Don’t all white folk think that of black men?”

“So you’re employed. The question is still the same.”

“I work as a bouncer at Bricky’s.”

“The club in Glaston Town?”

“Yeah. Have you ever been there?”

“Sure, I have.”

He looks skeptical.

“I may look square, but it doesn’t mean I don’t go out anywhere that’s fun. What time did you work on the night in question?”

“You said the 22nd was a Wednesday, right?”

“Yes.”

“Opening time’s ten o’clock, closing time’s three a.m.”

“After work, what did you do?”

“I went home with a dame.”

“What dame?”

“Is that a personal question?”

“No, a business one.”

He takes a card from his wallet and hands it to her. “Here.”

She reads it and asks in surprise: “The actress?”

“She likes younger men. What about you, do you like younger men?”

She doesn’t answer, but Lee has noticed that Sharon seems quite taken with him.

“So when are you going to go out with me, then?”

The DC laughs it off. “You’re a boy.”

“I like older women.”

“Never mind that.”



     

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